But the writing is where Grim Fandango earns the most praise. Parodying film noir cliches has become a cliche unto itself, and Grim Fandango thankfully avoids the obvious. This isn't just a faux Sam Spade mystery. Instead, the game draws upon darker and more complex sources, with Chinatown, Casablanca, and even David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross lurking in its shadows. And there are very few jokes in the game, but it is funny. It derives its humor from its situations and characters (such as Manny's oversized sidekick, Glottis) without making fun of itself, helping to create a believable world.
The puzzles help to maintain this believability. While traditional in nature, they are worked into the storyline well. And they are varied, both in style and difficulty. For the most part, you'll have a series of known objectives to complete before moving on to the next locale. These objectives are complex, though, and often the solutions will have multiple parts. You'll undoubtedly be stumped more than once, but the solutions are logical and subtle clues are plentiful.
Grim Fandango is not a typical LucasArts adventure. It's the first from the company to dispense with traditional 2D animation and move to the more cinematic 3D style made popular with Infogrames' Alone in the Dark games, and also utilized in Origin Systems' underrated Bioforge. It uses a keyboard-driven interface instead of the traditional point-and-click, and Manny signals significant objects by turning his head and looking as he passes by. Grim Fandango overcomes the major problems with this style, so only rarely will you be frustrated by disorienting camera-angle switching or feel lost because of an obscure exit.
It would be remiss to avoid mention of Grim Fandango's minor technical faults (such as the strange behavior exhibited by almost every elevator in the game). But these are unfortunate drawbacks to an otherwise great game. The one real problem with Grim Fandango is that the end comes too soon. This isn't because it's too short (it should take most a good two- to three-dozen hours), but because the designers have created a rich world that you won't want to leave, filled with memorable characters that are hard to say goodbye to. Don't be surprised if you're sad when it's over.